At first glance, it might seem that apart from Brackenridge Park and the Mission Trail, San Antonio is short on places to enjoy the great outdoors. The close proximity to Hill Country can steal the show, as can the aquatic wonderlands of New Braunfels, Gruene and San Marcos north on I-35, where you can go swimming and tubing to your heart's content on local rivers and at amusement parks. 

Take a closer look, however, and you'll see San Antonio has more to its park system than golf courses and colonial architecture. Here you'll find botanical gardens, hiking trails, paddling put-ins, and Indigenous history, not to mention plenty of places to cycle in a town that loves to tool around on two wheels. These are some of the best parks in San Antonio:

One of several ancient springs in San Pedro Springs Park. Prehistoric animal bones and Indigenous artifacts have been found at the site © Shutterstock / LindaPerez

1. San Pedro Springs Park

There's a lot of history in San Pedro Springs Park. For one, this was home to various Indigenous tribes for over ten thousand years and most recently the site of an Indigenous Payaya village. With the arrival of European colonizers, San Pedro Springs became the first settlement of what would become San Antonio. This is also the oldest city park in Texas, and one of the oldest in the United States, and was briefly used as a prison camp during the Civil War and a training ground for the famous Buffalo Soldiers who had an instrumental role in colonizing the Western United States and policing early national parks.

Over the past century and a half, San Pedro Springs has also been home to a zoo, a race track, a bandstand, and a baseball diamond. Today, there's a swimming pool where the springs once bubbled up, a skate park, a tennis court, a softball field, a library, and the San Pedro Playhouse.  

2. Comanche Lookout Park

A tall hill overlooking the Gulf Coastal Plain, Comanche Lookout Park is the fourth highest elevation in the county, used by generations of Indigenous travelers and later European settlers to get a vantage point on the journey ahead. The Royal Road of Texas, which crossed from San Antonio to Nacogdoches and is now a National Historic Trail, followed old Apache and Comanche trails through the area, including to the top of what is now this city park.

Today you'll find a series of short walking trails, including one that's paved in concrete and has slighter grades, making it more accessible for those with mobility limitations. You can also see a curious stone tower that would look more at home in County Clare, Ireland than Texas Hill Country. It appears medieval or like a relic of the Spanish American War, but it actually wasn't built until the 1920s, when Comanche Lookout was owned by a retired US Army Colonel named Edward R. Coppock, who had plenty of money and fanciful taste.

Jun 29, 2006; San Antonio, TX, USA; Aggie Eyster (left) and Ann Parker do their morning walk in Brackenridge Park.  Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News/ZUMA Press. (©) Copyright 2006 by San Antonio Express-News
Two women walk through Brackenridge Park in San Antonio © Photo by Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News/ZUMA Press Alamy Stock Photo

3. Brackenridge Park

North of downtown near Trinity University, 343-acre Brackenridge Park is a great place to spend a family day. As well as the San Antonio Zoo, you'll find the Kiddie Park, the San Antonio Zoo Eagle miniature train ($4), an old-fashioned carousel ($2.50) and the Japanese Tea Garden. Biking or strolling around Brackenridge Park, along the Mission Trail and along the River Walk makes for a nice outing when the weather is mild. Check for a list of suggested cycling routes.

4. Friedrich Wilderness Park

This 600-acre park near Six Flags Fiesta Texas is just for hikers. It has 10 miles of walking trails in a Hill Country landscape that are especially worth a detour when wildflowers are blooming in spring. Close to the Balcones Escarpment, you can see hints here of Texas' geologic history – this fault zone runs along I-35 from Dallas to San Antonio and includes the remnants of an ancient, ground down range called the Ouachita Mountains.

The Japanese Tea Garden at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens ©lsullivan/Budget Travel

5.  San Antonio Botanical Gardens

This expertly tended, 38-acre garden complex showcases native Texas flora. There's also a rose garden and a wonderful conservatory, with a bit of everything from equatorial rainforest to desert plants. Call or go online to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens website for a calendar of special events – from concerts under the stars and yoga classes to bird walks and summer classes for children.

The strolling garden was designed and created by a 26th-generation gardener and one of Japan's living national treasures from the island of Kyūshū – specifically the city of Kumamoto, which is also home to one of Japan's most revered traditional gardens, Suizenji Park. A few of that famous garden's elements appear here.

6. McAllister Park

For a taste of the Hill Country without venturing outside the city limits, head to this 976-acre park. It has about 7 miles of trails for walking and cycling; one of the trails is also wheelchair-accessible. Also has a 1.5-acre dog park, picnic pavilions, and accessible restrooms. There is also a public workout station near the Turkey Roost Trailhead in case you want to get your sweat on and don't have guest privileges at a local gym.

Old Christian Church From San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio's historic Missions have become a kind of string of parks throughout town ©Bernie Zapata/EyeEm/Getty Images

7. San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Spain's missionary presence can best be felt at the ruins of the four missions south of town: Concepción (1731), San José (1720), San Juan (1731) and Espada (1745–56). Religious services are still held in the mission churches and the mariachi Mass at noon on Sunday at San José church is a San Antonio tradition.

From downtown, VIA transit bus 42 goes to Concepción and San José. Bus 36 runs from downtown to Mission San Juan. Alamo Trolley tours visit San José and Concepción. Otherwise, rent a bicycle or drive. From downtown, take St Marys St south until it becomes Mission Rd, then follow the brown signs indicating the direction to the missions.

8. Roosevelt Park

A former gravel pit turned city park, Roosevelt has been part of San Antonio since the 1920s. It has picnic pavilions, a tennis court, and a swimming pool, as well as a playground and rock climbing wall for kids. Adults will enjoy a brand-new paddling trail which stretches 8 miles along the San Antonio River from Roosevelt Park to a take-out near Mission Espada, with numerous access points along the way. For kayak rentals and shuttles, try Mission Kayak.

Technically under jurisdiction of the National Parks Service, Mission Espada is one of the historic parks along the San Antonio Mission Trail ©Kelly vanDellen/Shutterstock

9. Confluence Park 

In between the Blue Star Arts Complex and Mission Espada, a grove of parabolic concrete pavilions marks Confluence Park, a relative newcomer to San Antonio's collection of greenspaces. Designed not only for recreation but also for scientists to conduct ecological research, the park sits at the confluence of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek. It's home to spans of native grassland, a grove of oaks, and even some rescued trees that were successfully transplanted here from another site under development. Public art decorates features like a pedestrian bridge and also highlight different aspects of the San Antonio natural environment, making this a fun destination for all ages to learn about how rivers and land interact in new ways.

10. Olmos Basin Park

San Antonio is a favorite golf destination, thanks to the region's mild year-round climate. Rates vary from $26 to tote your own bag around a public course to more than $112 to play at a private resort. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, there is a popular municipal golf course is located in Olmos Basin Park, about 7 miles north of downtown. It's good for all levels of players. If nine irons aren't your thing, there's a lot else to do at Olmos Basin – it's full of sports fields of all sorts, from baseball diamonds to soccer greens.

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